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Viking towns in Scandinavia
Vikings ready to invade

The Vikings were the people who came from Scandinavia (Denmark, Norway, and Sweden) from about AD 700 to about 1125. This period is called the Viking Age.[a] Vikings traveled great distances in their longships, as traders, settlers and warriors. Many of the Vikings were tall and had red or blonde hair and beards.[b] Villages on or near any coast in early medieval Europe lived in great fear of Viking attacks. Some of the countries most affected by Viking piracy were England, Scotland, Ireland, Germany and France.


Some words from the Scandinavian and Viking language (Norse) entered the English language. For example, the words skirt and shirt came from the word skyrta, meaning a tunic. As English changed, the semantics altered to give us the separate words 'skirt' and 'shirt' we know today. Skin came from the Norse word skinn (which meant to strip the meat off something). Some place-names in the areas the Vikings conquered are still in use.[4] For example in Yorkshire places ending with -thwaite meant a clearing,[5] and dale which meant a valley. The word thorpe meant new village, such as Scunthorpe.[6] The girls' name Leah, came from the word leya and was used for Viking girls.[source?]


The Vikings traveled through Russia, the Mediterranean Sea, southern Europe, northern Africa and south-western Asia. Some Vikings sailed across the Atlantic Ocean via Iceland and Greenland and may have explored places in North America. The ruins of a Viking settlement have been found at L'Anse-aux-Meadows, Newfoundland.[7] Archaeologists used radiocarbon dating to find out how old the settlement was. Their tests gave them a range of dates from about AD 700 to about AD 1000.[8]

Vikings in Europe

The first recorded raid in the west was at Lindisfarne in 793.[9] Europeans were frightened of the Vikings because of their strong weapons, swift attacks, and cruel fighting tactics. They were known for their bad treatment of women, children and monks in the places where they fought. When the Vikings came to England, the English kings paid them to leave the country, but the Vikings took their money and sometimes fought them anyway. These payments were called Danegeld. From the 9th century to 1066, when the French Duke of Normandy, who became King William I of England conquered it, Danish and Norwegian Vikings ruled large parts of England.

Because of their longships, which could float in 4 feet (1.3m) of water, the Vikings were able to make their way up rivers and land deep inside a country. For example they sailed up the River Shannon in Ireland and built a harbour 60 miles (100 km) from the coast.

There was a difference in who led Viking raids. In the 9th century Viking Age raids were led by men who may have been exiles in their own countries.[10] The later Viking raids in the late 10th century and early 11th century and were led by Kings.[10] Some of the early leaders tried to become kings with the riches they plundered from Europe and Russia. Some were successful but most were not.[10]

In Russia and the Mediterranean

The Vikings were called Rus by the peoples east of the Baltic Sea.[11] The name Russia is from the name Rus, the Vikings who settled in Kiev and formed the first Russian state.[11] The Vikings, or Rus, who served the Byzantine Emperors were called Varangians. They became the personal bodyguards to the Emperor and were called the Varangian Guard.[12]

Related pages


  1. The dating of the 'Viking Age' depends on the location and how the term is used. Generally it is from about 700/800 to about 1030/1100 (later for some purposes).[1] In Ireland, the Viking age was from about 825–885 and 910–999.[1] In France from about 834–890 and in Southern England from the 840s–910.[1] In studying Vikings and their religion, the dates of the Viking Age are from about 800–1300.[2]
  2. Scandinavians typically were of mixed hair color; natural red hair color being roughly between 5-10% of the people who lived there. But men used the same harsh lye soaps as women did that had a bleaching effect making their hair and beards reddish blonde to blonde.[3]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Eric Christiansen, Norsemen in the Viking Age (Oxford, UK; Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 2002), pp. 7–8
  2. Thomas Andrew DuBois, Nordic Religions in the Viking Age (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999), p. 5
  3. Mary Wilhelmine Williams, Social Scandinavia in the Viking Age (New York: Macmillan, 1920), p. 80–83
  4. "Place-names in The Danelaw". 2004 [last update]. Retrieved 26 June 2011.
  5. "Thwaite Meaning and Definition". year=2011 [last update]. Retrieved 26 June 2011.
  6. "BBC - History - Legacy of the Vikings". 2011 [last update]. Retrieved 26 June 2011.
  7. F. Donald Logan, The Vikings in History (Oxford; New York: Routledge, 2006), pp. 82–84
  8. F. Donald Logan, The Vikings in History (Oxford; New York: Routledge, 2006), p. 86
  9. Bonnie G Smith; Richard Von Glahn; Kris E Lane; et al, Crossroads and Cultures, Volume B: 500-1750 (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2012), p. 298
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 P.H. Sawyer, Kings and Vikings: Scandinavia and Europe AD 700–1100 (London; New York: Methuen, 1982), p. 145
  11. 11.0 11.1 Martina Sprague, Sweden: An Illustrated History (New York: Hippocrene Books, 2005), p. 37
  12. William L. Urban, Medieval Mercenaries: The Business of War (London: Greenhill Books, 2006), pp. 23–24

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